Facebook’s Hello App Another Incremental Step Toward Local Search

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Facebook continues to take baby steps toward offering a local search product. Yesterday the company announced Hello, a new dialer/caller ID app that also offers local business search:

You can also search for people and businesses on Facebook and call them with just one tap. So if a friend tells you about a new restaurant in your neighborhood, you can use Hello to find their hours, make a reservation and get directions, all without leaving the app.

The new app will identify callers connected to you on Facebook and allows users to block calls. It’s a logical app for Facebook to build as part of its “portfolio” strategy. The most interesting part (to me) however is the local search component of the app.

Users are able to search for specific businesses by name. They can also do category searches such “plumbers” or “sushi.” Generally the category search experience is not great, with a mix of Facebook contacts and incomplete local business listings.

If you locate a desired business, however, you can call it, add it to contacts or get directions (using Google Maps). Users can also click through to the company’s Facebook Page and see friends’ comments and user reviews and ratings. It remains to be seen whether Facebook will seek to integrate Messenger’s new business chat feature into this app.

Facebook Hello

Overall, Facebook Search still an unrealized offering. Yet the company is seeing pretty massive volume. In yesterday’s earnings release the company said, remarkably, that it sees more than a billion mobile searches per day — that’s right, per day.

This shows the user demand and the revenue potential that exists for Facebook in search. Local search in particular is a significant, untapped opportunity for the company. In the middle of 2014 Facebook rolled out an updated Places Directory.

But late last year when the company updated Graph Search it neglected to make local search a strong element of the product. Consumers are already looking for local business information and ratings and reviews on Facebook. I fail to understand why the company hasn’t created a separate “places app” to date. Alternatively it could improve the local search experience in the main Facebook app.

Consumers will undoubtedly be conducting local business lookups in the new app Hello. But as a product it’s another incremental but incomplete step toward a better local search offering at Facebook.

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